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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

Last Night in Spain, People, and Numbers

SPAIN | Friday, 5 February 2016 | Views [627]

Last Night in Spain

I starting writing this in Seville, but it has been difficult for me to finish. I haven't written much about Spain/Andalusia yet because, to be honest, the cities just didn't inspire me as much as Lisbon did. It's not really their fault. Andalusia is a beautiful area and there are some fascinating things to see there, but there were three factors that interfered with my ability to really appreciate everything this region has to offer. 

  1. Overload: I had been traveling for 17 days and had seen five different cities, all impressive, all beautiful and magnificent in their own way. The first two (Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal) were at a slow enough pace that I could linger and enjoy them. However, I squeezed the last three (Granada, Córdoba, and Seville, Spain) into eight days, which was enough time to hit the highlights, but too fast to have time to pause and reflect to let the uniqueness of each place really soak in. For me, the Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita in Córdoba were so awe-inspiring that I just needed more time before I had the capacity to take in Seville. Add to that the fact that I was in dorm-style rooms in Granada and Córdoba with little privacy, and the result was that when I got to my private room in Seville, I just needed to hide there and recharge for a while. On the second day in Seville, I trudged my way through the Alcázar, finding it to be just a mini-Alhambra with more Christian elements and some Columbus history, which is an oversimplified and unfair estimation. Then I got in line to go into Seville's massive Gothic cathedral. I looked up at all of the impressive masonry with dread, and in that moment, decided that I would rather roam the smaller streets and spend the €9 admission fee on paella and a glass of wine. So, that's what I did. It's practically a sin to go to Seville and not see the cathedral, but when you get to the stage where it feels more like a chore than a pleasure to see something, then there's no point. My aimless wandering and paella were much more enjoyable. Lesson learned: Slow down and build extra space in the itinerary for downtime and to avoid overload. 
  2. Lisbon: I was so enamoured of Lisbon that nowhere else really had much of a chance with me for a while. It was the first love of my sabbatical, and who can forget her first love? Excluding the Alhambra and the Mezquita, everything else was measured against Lisbon, and for me, lovely as they were, they fell short. It is probably more of a matter of timing than of instrinsic quality differences in the places. If I had gone to one of the Andalusian cities first, maybe the situation would have been reversed. I'll never know. As W. Somerset Maugham wrote, "The impression left by strange towns and cities is often a matter of circumstance, depending upon events in the immediate past; or on the chance which, during his earliest visit, there befell the traveler. . . So to myself Seville means ten times more than it can mean to others. I came to it after weary years in London, heartsick with much hoping, my mind dull with drudgery; and it seemed a land of freedom." So, Maugham's Seville was my Lisbon, and that brings us to the third point.
  3. Maugham: When I was on the verge of making the decision to take this sabbatical, I happened upon one of my favorite author's writings of his time in Andalusia. I had considered not going to Spain at all because I had been to Barcelona years ago, but Maugham described the region so eloquently, with such romantic imagery, that I was sure I would love it just as much as he did. However, Maugham's Andalusia existed more than 100 years ago, and it doesn't hold quite the same otherworldly charm today as it must have then. I knew this, knew that he had over-romanticized it, knew that my expectations were unrealistically high, but I was somewhat disillusioned nonetheless. I took his book with me into the Córdoba Mezquita's Court of Oranges, where I had planned to read the following passage under the quiet sun and the fresh aroma of the trees: "And the thought impressed itself upon me while I lingered in that peaceful spot, that there was far more to be said for the simple pleasures of sense than northern folk would have us believe. . . It is well occasionally to leave the eager turmoil of great cities for such a place as this, where one may learn that there are other, more natural ways of living, that it is possible still to spend long days, undisturbed by restless passion, without regret or longing, content in the various show that nature offers, asking only that the sun should shine and the happy seasons run their course." But alas, there was not a single orange on a single tree in that courtyard - they had all been picked just earlier that morning - the sun was shivering, large groups of tourists and students were crowding out the peacefulness, and I did not have much time to linger. 

Despite all of the above, my time in Spain was still pleasant, and my last day in Seville was very enjoyable. Trying to outdo Lisbon, Seville managed a very lovely 70 F (21 C). I continued to avoid cathedral duty and also decided against a daytrip I had considered to either Jerez or Arcos de la Frontera. Instead, I wondered the streets by the river, sat in the sun, and didn't do anything of much consequence. It was exactly what I needed to do. 


A Short Review of People

Visually, I could not see any differences between the people of Lisbon and those of Andalusia, but there was much more of a language barrier in Andalusia. Whereas about 95% of people I encountered in Lisbon spoke excellent English, only about 10% of the people in Andalusia did. In Andalusia, I found the people to be a little louder than in Lisbon, and more likely to start spontaneously clapping out their own flamenco rhythm or singing in the street. They felt somewhat gruff and impatient with my limited Spanish, and not quick to give a smile. I sometimes thought I might have detected a note of sarcasm, but I couldn't be sure. I was most aware of it in Granada, then it seemed to lessen as I moved to Córdoba and Seville. Perhaps it was all in my mind due to the immediate contrast with Lisbon and my own self-consciousness about not speaking Spanish. Perhaps people in Granada were weary of their town being overrun with tourists visiting the Alhambra. To be sure, there were still helpful people, but you had to seek them out rather than just finding them at every turn. 

With Granada having steep, hilly areas like Lisbon, people continued to wear mostly flat-soled shoes and avoid bicycles. Then as the cities flattened from Córdoba to Seville, there were more heels and bikes. Seville even had what looked like a nice public bike rental system, though I didn't try it. The visible police presence was higher in Andalusia than in Lisbon, and I was surprised to see several police officers carrying submachine guns. 


The Numbers

Here are my numbers from the day I left Lisbon until the last night in Seville, which includes nine full days.

  • Airfare from Lisbon to Granada (one-way): $121.36
  • Bed in a 4-bed female dorm room in a hostel in Granada for 3 nights (breakfast not included): $66.70
  • Bus from Granada to Córdoba: $9.92
  • Bed in a 4-bed female dorm room in a hostel in Córdoba for 2 nights (breakfast included): $40.40
  • Bus from Córdoba to Seville: $17.50
  • Private room with ensuite bathroom in a pension in Seville for 4 nights (breakfast not included): $116.88
  • Andalusia guidebook: $16.04
  • Spanish phrase book: $8.56
  • Daily expenses (food, entertainment/attractions, laundry, other transportation, etc.): $201.27

Grand Total: $598.63

Average: $66.51 per day

Well, I didn't manage to significantly change my average daily expenditure from the Lisbon average of $67.56/day, but at least it didn't increase, even though I treated myself to a hammam (Arab bath and massage), and my overall transportation costs went up from $110.40 to $148.78 because of moving between three different cities. Breakfast was included every day in Lisbon, but only for two of the nine days in Spain, so I think I can still be proud that I decreased my daily expenses from $26.16/day to $22.36/day. I slowly increased my grocery shopping so that by the time I got to Seville, I prepared almost every meal myself and only ate out twice. Unfortunately, the stove was not working in the pension in Seville and I only found that out after purchasing eggs, so I learned to make nicely poached eggs in the microwave. It was better than it sounds!

Tags: andalusia, budget, córdoba, granada, lisbon, maugham, sabbatical, seville, travel


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